Outcry over arrest of German 'book thief'

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Auctioneers in Germany deny involvement in the book theft plot. Photo: David Flores/Flickr
10:12 CEST+02:00
Staff at a German auction house have reacted with shock over the "preposterous" arrest of their director, who is accused of stealing hundreds of precious volumes, some of which date back to the sixth century, from one of Italy's most treasured libraries.

Herbert Schauer, the director of the Zisska&Schauer auction house, was arrested earlier this month in Munich after allegedly being involved in the theft of 600 volumes from the Girolamini library in Naples in 2012, Napoli Today reported.

The Naples prosecutor told the newspaper that Schauer took a leading role in the “systematic damage and illicit exploitation of book heritage at the state library."

But Zisska&Schauer has wholly rejected the accusations and said they were “deeply shocked” by the arrest.

“The accusations raised against him are preposterous, absurd and totally groundless,” the auction house said in a statement.

Zisska&Schauer staff say that they were offered over 400 books in private ownership in Italy through an intermediary in May 2012. They were due to accept the consignment when German authorities announced they were to confiscate four suspect books.

“To be on the safe side, Zisska&Schauer decided to withdraw the whole consignment from the auction, particularly as information and rumours were spreading that there had been losses of books from the Girolamini library in Naples,” the auctioneers said.

But the outcry is unlikely to deter the Italian authorities, who have already sentenced the library’s director, Marino Massimo De Caro, to seven years in prison over thefts from Girolamini. De Caro was also banned from public office for life.

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Other public officials caught up in the cultural scandal have received prison sentences of up to five years and four months and bans from office.

The Girolamini library opened its doors in 1586 and boasts around 159,700 volumes and pamphlets, in addition to 10,000 rare and precious editions and other works.

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